US Congress

Democracy Now on the Crimes and Mass Murders of President George H.W. Bush

The Friday before last, former president George H.W. Bush, the father of former president George ‘Dubya’ Bush, finally fell off his perch at the age of 94. Like Monty Python’s parrot, he had shuffled off this mortal coil and joined the choir invisible. He was an ex-president, and well and truly. He was buried with due state honours last Wednesday.

And the press and media fell over themselves to praise him to the rafters. If you believed them, you would have thought that America had lost a statesman of the stature of the ancient Athenian politico, Pericles. Or that he combined in himself the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson, Maddison and the rest of the Founding Fathers.

He wasn’t. He was the successor to Ronald Reagan and a former head of the CIA, and had been involved with shady dealings, dirty, proxy wars and invasions in Latin America and Iraq, that had cost thousands their lives, while thousands others were tortured by the dictators he supported. And domestically he was responsible for racist electioneering and a highly discriminatory drugs policy that has resulted in the massive disproportionate incarceration of Black American men.

Mehdi Hasan on George Bush Senior

He was a disgusting creature, and Mehdi Hasan wrote a piece in the Intercept describing just how disgusting and reprehensible he was. In the piece below, he also appeared on Democracy Now! to talk to host Amy Goodman about Bush senior and his legacy of corruption, murder and terror.

Bush was elected president in 1990. He was a former director of the CIA, and served from 1981-89 as Reagan’s vice-president. Despite calling for a kinder, gentler politics when he was vice-president, Bush refused to tackle climate change, saying that the American way of life was not up for negotiation, defended future supreme court justice Clarence Thomas even after he was accused of sexual harassment. He was responsible for launching the first Gulf War in Iraq in 1991. During the War, the US air force deliberately bombed an air raid shelter in Baghdad killing 408 civilians. The relatives of some of those killed tried to sue Bush and his deputy, Dick Cheney, for war crimes. The attack on Iraq continued after the end of the war with a devastating sanctions regime imposed by Bush, and then his son’s invasion in 2003.

The Invasion of Panama

In 1990 Bush sent troops into Panama to arrest the country’s dictator, General Manuel Noriega on charges of drug trafficking. Noriega had previously been a close ally, and had been on the CIA’s payroll. 24,000 troops were sent into the country to topple Noriega against Panama’s own military, which was smaller than the New York police department. 3,000 Panamanians died in the attack. In November 2018, the inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on Washington to pay reparations for what they considered to be an illegal invasion.

Pardoning the Iran-Contra Conspirators

As one of his last acts in office, Bush also gave pardons to six officials involved in the Iran-Contra scandal. This was a secret operation in which Reagan sold arms to Iran in order to fund the Contras in Nicaragua, despite Congress banning the administration from funding them. Bush was never called to account for his part in it, claiming he was ‘out of the loop’, despite the testimony of others and a mass of documents suggesting otherwise.

The Collapse of Communism and Neoliberalism

Bush’s period in office coincided with the collapse of Communism. In the period afterwards, which Bush termed the New World Order, he was instrumental in spreading neoliberalism and the establishment of the NAFTO WTO treaties for international trade.

Hasan not only wrote for the Intercept, he also hosted their Deconstructed podcast, as well as a show, Up Front, on Al-Jazeera English.

The Media’s Praise of Bush

Goodman and Hasan state that there is a natural reluctance against speaking ill of the dead. But they aren’t going to speak ill of Bush, just critically examine his career and legacy. Hasan states that as a Brit living in Washington he’s amazed at the media hagiography of Bush. He recognizes that Bush had many creditable achievements, like standing up to the NRA and AIPAC, but condemns the way the media ignored the rest of Bush’s legacy, especially when it involves the deaths of thousands of people as absurd, a dereliction of duty. He states that Bush is being described as the ‘anti-Trump’, but he did many things that were similar to the Orange Buffoon. Such as the pardoning of Caspar Weinberger on the eve of his trial, which the independent special counsel at the time said was misconduct and that it covered up the crime. And everyone’s upset when Trump says he might pardon Paul Manafort. Bush should be held to the same account. It doesn’t matter that he was nicer than Trump, and less aggressive than his son, he still has a lot to answer for.

The Iran-Contra Scandal

Goodman gets Hasan to explain about the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Reagan sold arms to Iran, then an enemy state, to fund a proxy war against a ‘Communist’ state in South America despite a congressional ban. He states that it was a huge scandal. Reagan left office without being punished for it, there was a Special Council charged with looking into it, led by Lawrence Walsh, a deputy attorney general under Eisenhower. When he looked into it, he was met with resistance by Reagan’s successor, Bush. And now we’re being told how honest he was. But at the time Bush refused to hand over his diary, cooperate with the Special Counsel, give interviews, and pardoned the six top neocons responsible. The Special Counsel’s report is online, it can be read, and it says that Bush did not cooperate, and that this was the first time the president pardoned someone in a trial in which he himself would have to testify. He states that Bush and Trump were more similar in their obstruction of justice than some of the media would have us believe.

Iraq Invasion

They then move on to the Iraq invasion, and play the speech in which Bush states that he has begun bombing to remove Saddam Hussein’s nuclear bomb potential. It was done now, because ‘the world could wait no longer’. Because of Bush’s attack on Iraq, his death was marked by flags at half-mast in Kuwait as well as Washington. Hasan states that Hussein invaded Kuwait illegally, and it was a brutal occupation. But Hasan also says that Bush told the country that it came without any warning or provocation. But this came after the American ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, told Hussein that American had no opinion on any border dispute with Kuwait. This was interpreted, and many historians believe, that this was a green light to Hussein to invade.

Bush also told the world that America needed to go into Iraq to protect Saudi Arabia, as there were Iraqi troops massing on the border of that nation. This was another lie. One reporter bought satellite photographs of the border and found there were no troops there. It was lie, just as his son lied when he invaded twelve years later. As for the bombing of the Amariyya air raid shelter, which was condemned by Human Rights Watch, this was a crime because the Americans had been told it contained civilians. Bush also bombed the civilian infrastructure, like power stations, food processing plants, flour mills. This was done deliberately. Bush’s administration told the Washington Post that it was done so that after the war they would have leverage over the Iraqi government, which would have to go begging for international assistance. And this was succeeded by punitive sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. It all began on Bush’s watch.

Racism, Willie Horton and Bush’s Election Campaign

They then discuss his 1988 election campaign, and his advert attacking his opponent, Michael Dukakis. Dukakis was attacked for having given a weekend pass from prison to Willie Horton, a Black con serving time for murder, who then went and kidnapped a young couple, stabbing the man and repeatedly raping the woman. This was contrasted with Bush, who wanted the death penalty for first degree murder. The advert was created by Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes, who later apologized for it on his deathbed. This advert is still studied in journalism classes, and until Trump’s ad featuring the migrant caravan appeared it was considered the most racist advert in modern American political history. Atwater said that they were going to talk about Horton so much, people would think he was Dukakis’ running mate. Bush approved of this, and talked about Horton at press conferences. And unlike Atwater, he never apologized. Roger Stone, whom Hasan describes as one of the most vile political operatives of our time, an advisor to Donald Trump and Nixon, actually walked up to Atwater and told him he would regret it, as it was clearly a racist ad. When even Roger Stone says that it’s a bad idea, you know you’ve gone too far. But the press has been saying how decent Bush was. Hasan states he has only two words for that: Willie Horton.

In fact, weekend passes for prison inmates was a policy in many states, including California, where Ronald Reagan had signed one. Hasan calls the policy what it was: an attempt to stoke up racial fears and division by telling the public that Dukakis was about to unleash a horde of Black murderers, who would kill and rape them. And ironically the people who were praising Bush after his death were the same people attacking Trump a week earlier for the migrant caravan fearmongering. It reminded everyone of the Willie Horton campaign, but for some reason people didn’t make the connection between the two.

Racism and the War on Drugs

Hasan also makes the point that just as Bush senior had no problem creating a racist advert so he had no problem creating a racist drug war. They then move on to discussing Bush’s election advert, in which he waved a bag of crack cocaine he claimed had been bought in a park just a few metres from the White House. But the Washington Post later found out that it had all been staged. A drug dealer had been caught selling crack in Lafayette Square, but he had been lured there by undercover Federal agents, who told him to sell it there. The drug dealer even had to be told the address of the White House, so he could find it. It was a nasty, cynical stunt, which let to an increase in spending of $1 1/2 billion on more jails, and prosecutors to combat the drugs problem. And this led to the mass incarceration of young Black men, and thousands of innocent lives lost at home and abroad in the drug wars. And today Republican senators like Chris Christie will state that this is a failed and racist drug war.

This was the first in a series of programmes honouring the dead – which meant those killed by Bush, not Bush himself. The next programme in the series was on what Bush did in Panama.

Dark Rock and Bush: The Sisters of Mercy’s ‘Vision Thing’

I’ve a suspicion that the track ‘Vision Thing’ by the Sisters of Mercy is at least partly about George Bush senior. The Sisters are a dark rock band. Many of front man Andrew Eldritch’s lyrics are highly political, bitterly attacking American imperialism. Dominion/Mother Russia was about acid rain, the fall of Communism, and American imperialism and its idiocy. Eldritch also wanted one of their pop videos to feature two American servicemen in a cage being taunted by Arabs, but this was naturally rejected about the bombing of American servicemen in Lebanon. Another song in the same album, ‘Dr Jeep’, is about the Vietnam War.

‘Vision Thing’ seems to take its title from one of Bush’s lines, where he said, if I remember correctly, ‘I don’t have the vision thing.’ The song talks about ‘another black hole in the killing zone’, and ‘one million points of light’. It also has lines about ‘the prettiest s**t in Panama’ and ‘Take back what I paid/ to another M*****f****r in a motorcade’. These are vicious, bitter, angry lyrics. And if they are about Bush senior, then it’s no wonder.

Human Rights Lawyer Maria LaHood on Israel’s Suppression of Criticism in the US

This is another video from the conference ‘Israel’s Influence: Good or Bad for America?’, organized by the American Educational Trust, which publishes the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs; and Middle Eastern Policy, Inc. The speaker in this piece is Maria LaHood, a deputy legal director at the Centre for Constitutional Rights, who works to defend the constitutional rights of Palestinian civil rights activists in the US. In this clip she describes some of the cases she’s worked on defending Palestinian and pro-Palestinian activists from legal attack by the Israel lobby. These includes the case of the Olympia Co-op, Professor Stephen Salaita, and filing Freedom of Information Act Requests to obtain government documents about Israel’s attack on the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza. The speaker also says she works on the Right to Heal Initiative, helping Iraqi civil society and veterans seeking accountability for the damage to Iraqis’ health from the last war. She’s also challenged the American government over the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and Caterpillar over its sale of the bulldozer used to kill Rachel Corey to Israel. Before joining the Centre, she also worked campaigning for affordable housing in the Bay area of San Francisco.

She begins by talking about attempts to harass, prosecute and suppress pro-Palestinian students and professors at US universities.

The first case she talks about is Professor Stephen Salaita, an esteemed Palestinian-American lecturer, who had a tenured position at Virginia Tech University. He was offered a position at the University of Illinois, Urban Champagne on its Native American Studies programme, which he accepted. He was due to begin his new job at the University of Illinois in the summer of 2014. During that summer he watched, horrified, Israel’s devastation of Gaza and tweeted about it. Two weeks before he was due to take up his post, he received an email from the Chancellor telling him not to bother because he would not be accepted by the Board of Trustees. The professor and his family were thus left without jobs, an income, health insurance and a home.

Salaita lost his job due to a self-declared Zionist, who’d been following his tweets. These were published on the right-wing blog, Legal Insurrection. Professor Salaita was also targeted by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, the Jewish Federation and the Anti-Defamation League. Also, wealthy donors to the uni threatened to withdraw their money. The Chancellor and the Board later stated that they withdrew his job offer based on those tweets, which they considered uncivil, and anti-Semitic. LaHood states that accusations of anti-Semitism is commonly used to silence criticism of Israel. Christopher Kennedy, who led the Board’s rejection of Salaita, was later given an award by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

CCR sued the university, the trustees and top administrators. The court found in his favour, and the Chancellor resigned a few hours later the next day, and the Provost resigned a few weeks later. LaHood states that last autumn (2015) Salaita became the Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut, and settled his case for $875,000 against the university. LaHood paid tribute to the immense grassroots support for Salaita, with thousands signing petitions, five thousand professors boycotted the university, and 16 U of I departments voted ‘no confidence’ in the administration. The American Association of Professors also censured the university. Salaita went on to talk about his experience to more than 50 unis, and his works on Israel and settler colonialism are more popular than ever.

The Olympia Food Co-op is a local food co-op in Olympia, Washington; a non-profit organization, it has been very involved in social work and political self-determination. It has adopted a number of boycotts, and in 2010 the board voted by consensus to boycott Israeli goods. Five of the co-op’s 22,000 members voted to prosecute the 16 board members, who’d passed the vote, over a year later. Six months before the lawsuit was filed, the Israeli consul general to the Pacific northwest, based in San Francisco, travelled to Olympia to meet the co-chairs of Stand With Us Northwest, the lawyer representing those suing, and some Olympia activists. Stand With Us is a non-profit organization supporting Israel around the world. It is one of the groups trying to suppress free speech on Israel in the US. It maintains dossiers on Palestinian rights activists. The five issued a letter to the board members telling them to rescind the boycott or else they would be sued and held personally accountable. They were accused of violating the co-op’s governing principles, and the board asked their accusers how they had done this, and invited them to put their proposal to a membership vote, according to the co-op’s bye-laws. The accusers refused to do so, and went ahead and filed the suit. After they did so, Stand With Us put it out on their website that they had brought the suit in partnership with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, spearheaded by the Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Alon. Alon admitted that the Israelis were behind the lawsuit, and using it to amplify their power.

CCR then sued, using an anti-SLAPP motion. SLAPP stands for ‘Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. Half the states in America have legislation to deter the abuse of laws to chill free speech. The trial court dismissed the case as a SLAPP, held the Board had the authority to initiate the boycott, and awarded them each $10,000. The accusers launched an appeal, this was turned down, and they then appealed to the Supreme Court. The Washington Supreme Court turned down the anti-SLAPP motion, and referred the case back to the trial court. The CCR’s motion to dismiss the case again was denied. The case goes on, and the board members, most of whom are no longer in their post, have been subject to discovery and intimidation. The boycott of Israeli foods continues, however.

LaHood states that these are not isolated incidents, but only two of numerous cases where those, who speak out on Palestine are attacked. In September 2015 the CCR and their partner, Palestine Legal, issued a report, The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack in US, documenting the increasing attempts in the US to silence and punish advocacy in favour of Palestine and speech on Israel, including BDS. The report details to the tactics and many cases studies, and is available on both of the organisations’ websites. In 2015 Palestine legal dealt with 240 cases of suppression, including false accusations of terrorism and anti-Semitism. 80% of those incidents were against students and professors at 75 campuses, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. She talks about some of these tactics and cases, such as that of the Irvine 11, who were criminally prosecuted for walking out of a speech by the-then Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren. Several schools have been given complaints by the Zionist Organisation of America, claiming that advocacy on campus for Palestinian rights creates a pro-anti-Semitism atmosphere on campus. Even though these complaints are unconstitutional, universities respond by investigating those accused and cracking down on speech.

These complaints are not only brought by the Z of A, but also the Brandeis Centre, the Ampline Centre, Sheriat Hedin, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, the Anti-Defamation League amongst others. Netanyahu has launched a full attack on BDS, which Israel has declared to be the biggest threat it faces. Movements to divest from Israel across America have been accused of being anti-Semitic. The American Studies Association was received death threats when they voted to endorse the call to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Sheriat Hedin, the Israeli law centre, threatened to sue them if they didn’t end the boycott. Sheriat Hedin admits that it takes advice on which cases to pursue from Mossad and Israel’s National Security Council. Also in response to the ASA’s decision, legislatures around the country voted on bills to withhold state funding from colleges that used any state aid to fund academic organisations advocating a boycott of Israel. Mobilisation of public opinion prevented these bills from being passed, but now 15 states have introduced anti-boycott legislation. Some states have also passed non-binding resolutions against the BDS, but those have no legal effect. Last year (2015) Illinois passed a law demanding a black list of foreign companies that boycott Israel and compelled the state pension fund to divest from those companies. Florida passed a similar bill in 2016, which also outlaws state contracts with such companies for amounts over a million dollars. New York has even worse legislation pending.

The US Congress has introduced legislation to protect these state laws from federal pre-emption challenges, but these cannot prevent challenges under the First Amendment. Anti-Boycott provisions were introduced into the Federal Trade Promotions Authority Law, making it a priority to discourage BDS from Israel and the Occupied Territories. More information can be found about anti-BDS legislation at righttoboycott.org. Anti-BDS isn’t confined to the US. Israel has anti-boycott damages legislation and France has criminalized BDS. And people have been arrested for wearing BDS T-shirts.

She states that these laws are an extension of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. They have no defence, so they attempt to stop the debate. Free speech and free inquiry is essential to the functioning of democracy, especially at universities, and open debate helps shape public attitudes. Campus opposition helped turn the tide against the Vietnam War, Apartheid in South Africa and will eventually do the same against Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. The mounting opposition to people working against the occupation and other violations of international law shows how strong the pro-Palestinian movement is, and how it will eventually win.